What will be our control over the sky above as drones fill the airspace above cities? Blockchain is still an emerging industry and in a few years drones could be all over us. Their operations will be in the sub-layer of space, beneath commercial and military flight paths. They need to coordinate their flight paths so that they do not crash into one another while transporting cargo or people, as well as inspecting wind turbines, bridges, and other things. This is why a sub-layer has been created for air traffic control.
This sub-layer will use both distributed ledger technology (DLT), Blockchain, and Automation. Cranfield researchers participate in this research. The system, they claim will bring together a variety of crewed and uncrewed autonomous aircraft flying in the UK’s skies. A hybrid airspace will be available from 2024, once this industry has been established.
This future that uses blockchain technology to solve logistical issues is currently being developed by 13 consortium partners. They include Cranfield University, Oxford University and Heathrow Airport. The system, which will be used by thousands of computers independent of each other as drones fly above us, allows them to share their history of data, which includes who did what and when. Cranfield says that the system has « smart contracts », which allow for user-specific controls, backed by coded security. This will allow for continuous real-time data gathering, processing, and authorisation during operations. »
According to Dr Dimitrios Panagiotakopoulos, Senior Lecturer in Uncrewed Aircraft Systems Traffic Management at Cranfield, traditional ATM operators already face high workloads, as well as a flood of information from various systems such as flight planning, radar and weather. It is not scalable enough to support a hybrid airspace with crewed and uncrewed traffic.
SITA’s CEO Yann Cabaret explains that to reap the immense benefits offered by a new type of airspace, there must be greater automation and autonomy. However, this can only happen with trust-based systems and watertight systems. Uncrewed Aircraft Systems’ success will be similar to that of the larger air transport industry. It relies heavily on data sharing between airports, operators and management. DLTs can improve data flow between transport stakeholders in order to enable the safe and efficient operation of unmanned aircraft. “At SITA, we have already demonstrated the benefits of DLT in tracking aircraft parts to sharing operational data at the airport.” he says.
We know that many people living in urban areas can expect to see a range of drones above their heads soon. They will transport people to the hospital, put out fires and deliver parcels. Urban Air Mobility (UAM) states that the drone operation will be performed safely and efficiently, just like general aviation’s air traffic control system. This system has a higher level of automation than existing air traffic control. It requires less interaction and can handle more flights at once. This is an exciting project that could lead to highways in the sky, eliminating traffic congestion, changing how we move about, and it’s a great one.